Opportunities to take on a meaningful role in high-level sporting competitions simply do not come along every day.
I was fortunate enough to have that chance as one of six scorekeepers who worked men’s and women’s hockey at the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver.
Since that incredible experience, I have recounted on many occasions that the presence of Lady Luck was likely as key to opening that door, as were the 30-plus years of scorekeeping background I possess.
If not for the fact former NHL official and Skead resident Dan McCourt was sitting next to VANOC official Barbara Byrne at a WHL game in Vancouver in late 2008 and if not for the fact that Dan thought of mentioning a couple of local lads who might have an interest in being part of the minor officials crew, there is virtually no chance that my long-time friend, Todd Guthrie, and I would ever have found ourselves at ice level for the Canada/USA gold medal encounter.
A little over a week ago, I was fortunate enough to travel a similar path once again. This time around, my debt of gratitude is owed to David Brisson, a gentleman I had never even met until earlier this month.
As head of the results section for the 2013 IIHF Women’s World Hockey Championships in Ottawa, Brisson was kind enough to ask me to take a spot at the scorekeeper’s bench for the recent tournament, far and away my favourite place to work during any hockey game.
Assigned to a half-dozen games, none involving Team Canada, the experience was certainly different from the Olympics. And, that wasn’t a bad thing at all.
Without the ultra-heightened Olympic-level security measures required, these championships provided the chance to mingle more closely with coaches and athletes.
It was astounding to notice the youth of the playing suiting up for the six teams other than Canada and the U.S., with many participants aged 22 or less.
As was the case in Vancouver, the friendliness of all of the foreign athletes and their respective entourages was extremely welcome for any volunteer who needed to pry them away from their pre-game rituals to have lineups and starting rosters completed.
If life is nothing more than the collective gathering of all of our experiences, then the 2013 Women’s Championships added a few more memories to the database. Catching up with Norwegian referee Aina Hove, who had worked both the Women’s Canada Cup (2009) and the Olympics, was a definite treat.
Chatting with German official Nicole Hertrich, who explained the bulk of her on-ice experience comes courtesy of junior men’s and semi-pro teams in Germany and that trying to track down high-level female hockey was a near impossibility, was enlightening.
Watching the Russians in their opening game, and predicting to a co-worker that they were easily the team to improve most in recent years, was a treat.
Even better was winning my early tournament bet the Russians would nab bronze (I have to get these right once in a while). All of these experiences have now been added to the collage of wonderful hockey memories I’ve enjoyed over the years.
Small wonder this is a volunteer role I would take on over and over again.
Will North American supremacy be the death of elite women’s hockey?
Throughout much of the tournament, talk among media hockey pundits often centered around concern the World Championships in women’s hockey is nothing more than a two-horse race between Canada and the U.S.
With a first-hand view of a number of international clashes over the past couple of years, I thought I would provide a personal perspective to this discussion.
As some have noted before, the problem right now is not that the non-North American nations are not improving, but more so that Canada and the U.S. continue to improve at least as quickly, if not more rapidly.
Common sense suggests that, over time, this gap will close and the rest of the world will catch up. However, this might not really happen in earnest for another 10 years or so.
There is some good news. Beyond the perennial favourites, the level of parity is increasing rapidly among other competing nations. Games that did not involve Canada or the U.S. were never decided by more than four goals and seven of those games were settled by just a single tally.
Every one of the six other teams has now produced at least a handful of athletes who are capable of skating with the world elite. Many countries are now producing goalies capable of keeping the scores respectable.
But much like I witnessed at a number of the OWHA provincial games I attended in Ottawa over the same time period, the thing that sets the best of the best apart is offensive skill level.
Challengers to North America’s hockey supremacy must being producing accurate shooters who can fire pucks with speed, players with offensive creativity and forwards capable of making moves that can turn a defenceman inside out.
Randy Pascal is the founder of SudburySports.com and a contributing sports writer for Northern Life.